KBB Editors' Overview
By KBB.com Editors
Saab claimed a whopping 2,157 changes and enhancements for its premium compact 9-3 series in 2008, so it should come as no surprise changes for 2009 are relatively few. A new Cross-Wheel Drive (XWD) option is available on 9-3 sedan and SportCombi models with the four-cylinder 2.0T. Saab's 9-3 Sedan and SportCombi compete against the Acura TSX, BMW 3 Series, Volvo S60, Audi A4 and the Volvo V50 wagon. Saab also continues to offer the front-drive 9-3 Convertible with a fabric roof.
You'll Like This Car If...
Some shoppers gravitate toward the Saab 9-3 partly because of its "stealth" personality; it delivers more in performance and handling than its straight-forward appearance suggests. Others simply like the car's solid, tight Eurosedan feel, which is likely to be enhanced further yet when the XWD option arrives.
You May Not Like This Car If...
Even more than their Swedish Volvo cousins, Saabs used to be known for various quirks and idiosyncrasies, which fans adored but some others disdained. Things like the console-mounted ignition – a long-standing Saab hallmark – can still prove too peculiar for some.
What's New for 2009
XWD on the base 2.0T model is the big news for 2009. The V6 Aero sees a significant bump up in horsepower, while an electronically controlled limited slip rear differential is added to Aero models with XWD. OnStar 8.0 now features Turn-by-Turn navigation and Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity.
Each 2009 Saab 9-3 exhibits a serious Eurosedan personality. Confident handling is the rule, especially in Aero trim. An Aero SportCombi exemplifies what the modern wagon experience should be: Well-behaved under all conditions. The 2.0T steers with a rather light touch, but one that's sure-footed. Spirited reaction from the 2.0T's engine, even with the automatic, exhibits little turbo lag but suffers a bit of downshifting delay and a slight hesitation on light acceleration. The Aero's V6 feels more effortless, and you immediately notice a difference in handling and roadholding. Aeros can be pushed vigorously into curves, remaining impressively flat and centered, and they ride more taut than front-drive 2.0Ts, but not uncomfortably, overcoming most pavement imperfections without fuss. Harsher bumps produce sharp body motions, but only for a moment. Saab's manual gearbox ranks among the best for easy shifting.
Sport Button (With Automatic)
For those occasional moments when energetic driving proves irresistible, the Sport button keeps the transmission in each gear long enough to boost responses smartly. Surprisingly, it works better with the 2.0T. Sport operation in the Aero is more stern, and high engine revs get rather raucous.
As a front-wheel-drive car, the 9-3 is often left out of conversations that include the BMW 3 Series, Infiniti G and other rear-wheel-drive sport sedans. A new performance-enhancing all-wheel drive system should have more people talking about the 9-3.
Sedans and SportCombis have seating for five passengers, versus four for Convertibles. Designers have substituted a black interior for the prior gray. Straightforward in layout, the instrument setup was clearly developed for easy and helpful reading. A big center speedometer is accompanied by relatively large fuel and temperature gauges and a sizable tachometer, but the optional navigation system's screen is rather small. Aero seats, in particular, are seriously sporty, keeping you in place and well-supported as well as comfortable and bolstered – though not excessively snug. Getting used to the console-mounted ignition key doesn't take too long.
Influenced by the sleek Aero X concept car, the 2009 Saab 9-3 wears a sweptback face with a semi-wrap-over hood and curtly-tapered three-hole grille, reminiscent of front ends in notable previous Saabs. Aero-style wraparound headlamps can incorporate a headlamp cornering feature, which is standard on Aero models. Aeros have a unique front bumper, plus air intakes and brawny exhaust outlets that "really accent the power," according to Saab. Flared side-sill extensions and rain-sensing wipers are standard. SportCombis are a few inches taller than sedans or convertibles.
Notable Standard Equipment
Standard equipment includes XM Satellite Radio, GM's OnStar communications system, rain-sensing wipers, a tire-pressure monitoring system and Saab's "quiet tuning" package. On 2.0T models, 14-spoke alloy wheels hold 16-inch tires, whereas Aeros and SportCombi XWD editions roll on 17-inch five-spoke alloys. Buyers of Aero models are entitled to a session at the Aero Academy, to learn to drive their Saabs safely and effectively. Both engines are available with either a six-speed manual gearbox or an automatic transmission, and automatic Aeros may be shifted using steering-wheel paddles.
Notable Optional Equipment
Only a handful of options are offered, including an automatic transmission, power moonroof (for 2.0T models) and a DVD-based navigation system. Semi-aniline leather seat trim, with sport buckets, also is available. The 2.0T's Premium Package includes such extra as high-intensity-discharge headlamps, foglamps, memory for driver's seat and mirrors, rear park assist and walnut wood interior trim. A Cold Weather Package adds headlamp washers and heated front seats.
Under the Hood
In the base-model 2.0T, a turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produces 210 horsepower, driving a six-speed manual transmission or an optional five-speed automatic (six-speed auto with XWD). A 280-horsepower, 2.8-liter turbocharged V6 engine goes into Aero models, with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. Each automatic includes a manual-shift provision, with a Sport mode that holds gears longer during acceleration and alters the shift points for braking..
2.0-liter in-line 4 Turbocharged
210 horsepower @ 5500 rpm
221 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/29 (manual); 19/26 (automatic, sedan), 18/24 (automatic, SportCombi), 18/26 (manual XWD), 17/27 (automatic, XWD)
2.0-liter in-line 4 Turbocharged
210 horsepower @ 5500 rpm
221 horsepower @ 2000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/29 (manual), 19/28 (automatic), 18/26 (manual, XWD), 17/27 (automatic, XWD)
2.8-liter V6 Turbocharged
280 horsepower @ 5000 rpm
295 lb.-ft. of torque @ 1900 rpm (XWD)
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 15/24
In 2.0T form, the 2009 Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan has a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of just over $31,000; that's a bit lower than most competitors. The 2.0T SportCombi Wagon stickers for closer to $32,500 and the V6 Aero Sedan goes for about $44,500, versus $45,500 for an Aero SportCombi. Look for the XWD to add a few thousand dollars to the 2.0T price. The Fair Purchase Price, which represents what consumers are actually paying, is likely to be moderately lower. Be sure to click on Fair Purchase Prices to check what a 9-3 is currently selling for in your area. Resale value is comparable to Volvo, but falls short of Audi and BMW levels.